The tree is out, the lights are up and your last-minute Christmas shopping needs loom large. Almost are large as you worry you’ll be once the Christmas period has been and gone.
Trying not to put on weight as you navigate the onslaught of Christmas meals, parties and get-togethers can feel like avoiding the sun in the desert.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to holiday season weight gain or be miserable in order to keep the weight off.
Using a handful of simple strategies (most you’re probably already using) in certain ways you can help to minimize or even avoid the holiday weight gain and still enjoy yourself.
I get that at Christmas you’re not really in control of how the food gets cooked or what’s going to be served (Christmas is pretty set in stone, right) but I also understand you want to avoid weight gain without being the one who has to miss out, sat alone with no drink and just some dry turkey…for the gains!
The strategies that follow are things you can actually do, not pipedream tactics like cooking a low-fat turkey or avoid food groups altogether.
#1 - Exercise Moderation & Portion Control
You mean don’t eat until you feel sick and cannot move or breath without being in pain?
Well, yes but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy yourself.
Whether you realise it or not you’re probably exercising some form of moderation on a day to day basis yet as Christmas day rolls around this all goes out the window and you find yourself stuffing your face with everything in arm’s reach.
My first tip then is to continue exercising moderation and instead of cramming as much food in as possible, as if it might magically disappear if you don’t force it into your body, try and control your portions.
It’s important to realise that if something tastes good and you take enjoyment from it then you’ll still feel this way whether you eat 2 plates or 20 plates. Your enjoyment of food is based on the quality of the food, not the quantity and this is an important distinction.
Stuffing yourself above and beyond normal limits doesn’t mean that you’ll somehow derive additional pleasure from the moment, but instead means you’ll end up feeling stuffed, bloated and full of regret.
Eat until your satisfied and remember you can always go back for more later.
#2 - Use Cardio Strategically
You already know that eating more calories than you burn means you’re in a caloric surplus and this is what causes weight gain.
So, if you’re looking to eat more than normal during the holiday period, then consider using cardio strategically to allow you to eat more.
By being active on the days you expect to eat more you’ll increase the number of calories you can eat before going into a surplus.
This doesn’t mean you have to don your wellington boots and trudge through muddy parks and fields in the pouring rain, nor does it mean you have to venture out into the cold to find your nearest gym (unless you want to do these things).
Instead, you can perform circuits, jump rope or shadow box and more from the comfort of your own home to burn those extra calories.
For these kinds of workouts, I recommend something short and sweet (15-30mins) but high in intensity. Things like Tabata circuits or high energy intervals are perfect and can be done with no equipment.
Tabata circuits are completed by performing one exercise at a time for 8 continuous rounds of 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest.
Each exercise will be worked for a total of 4 minutes and you'll rest for 1 minute between exercise. Tabata can be done with more exercises but this example includes 4.
Circuits can be performed in a variety of ways but in the below example you will complete each exercise consecutively for 30secs only resting (for 1 minute) once all exercises have been completed.
Repeat the circuit for 3 - 5 total repetitions. This circuit can be made longer and/or be done for reps instead of time.
|EXERCISE||WORK TIME||REST TIME||ROUNDS|
|Mountain Climbers||20 secs||10 secs||x8|
|Squat Jumps||20 secs||10 secs||x8|
|High Knee Sprint||20 secs||10 secs||x8|
|Burpees||20 secs||10 secs||x8|
|EXERCISE||WORK TIME||REST TIME||ROUNDS|
|Walking Lunges||30 secs||0 secs||3 - 5|
|Press Ups||30 secs||0 secs||3 - 5|
|Squat Jumps||30 secs||0 secs||3 - 5|
|Burpees||30 secs||0 secs||3 - 5|
Try getting up first thing and knocking out one of these circuits or something similar, not only will you feel great, but you’ll ramp up your calorie burn for the day and be able to eat more with worrying about weight gain.
#3 - Strength Train Regularly
It’s a good habit to stick to your regular routine as closely as possible during the holiday period.
Of course, there’s always the temptation to sack off your usual training and exercise over the holiday period but this is a mistake.
The training plan you follow should be sustainable all year round, so if the first thing you find yourself wanting to do at Christmas is to pack it all in then you need to take the time re-evaluate your goals, commitment, and current training plan.
Now, if we’re being realistic you won’t be able to stick to things 100%, unexpected events will come up and you may even be traveling for the holidays but even so, it’s important to try and continue strength training regularly. If this means you need to alter or change your routine for a couple of weeks, then do it.
If you're continuing to work out, that’s what matters even if you need to;
Switch from free weights to body weight exercises
Train 2 days a week instead of 4
Reduce your workouts from an hour to 30 minutes
All of this is absolutely ok and it’s still possible to get an effective workout under these circumstances. Focus on compound movements and work hard during your sessions and you’ll be fine.
Example 2 Day Workout
Workouts to be performed on non-consecutive days with at least 24 hours rest in between and to be alternated in the following way; A, B, A, B, etc. Priority is given to compound movements due to both reduced training time and frequency. Aim to apply progressive overload and get stronger over subsequent sessions.
|Incline Bench||3||4 - 6||3 mins|
|Shoulder Press||3||6 - 8||3 mins|
|Skulls||2 - 3||8 - 10||1 min|
|Squats||3||6 - 8||3 mins|
|Deadlifts||2 - 3||3 - 5||3 mins|
|Chin Ups||3||6 - 8||3 mins|
|Barbell Curls||3||8 - 10||1 min|
|Leg Raises||3 - 4||12- 15||1 min|
To get the most from your workouts over the holiday period and help to minimise or avoid weight gain, try and strength train on the days you know that you’ll be eating lots to try and shuttle some of those extra calories back to your muscles.
Like with strategic cardio, strength training will not only increase your calorie burn for the day, but you’ll also feel better having worked out and will put all that extra food to good use.
#4 - Choose Your Poison Wisely
I’d never tell you not to drink at Christmas because truth be told I’d be kidding myself if I said I wasn’t going to drink over the Christmas period.
As with a lot of you, having a couple of drinks (or more, probably more, definitely more) is part of the festivities and comes part and parcel with all of the food and I appreciate that telling you not to drink is the same as asking you not to eat.
I won’t do that.
Instead, what I’ll say is, if like me, you’re happy to drink a range of different drinks then choose the lower calorie options instead of those packed with calories.
This would mean avoiding or at least minimizing your intake of;
Spirits with sugary mixers
However, lower calorie options include;
Spirits on the rocks
Spirits with 0kcal mixer
The important thing here is to make an informed and responsible decision. Drinking excessively will not only lead to poor decision making when it comes to food but it’ll also ramp up the number of calories you take in.
|DRINK||SERVING SIZE||CALORIE CONTENT|
|Beer (Draught)||1 Pint||180 Calories|
|Beer (Draught)||1 Pint||180 Calories|
|Beer (Lager 4%)||1 Pint||170 Calories|
|Beer (Lager 5%)||1 Pint||250 Calories|
|Cider (Dry)||1 Pint||190 Calories|
|Cider (Sweet)||1 Pint||220 Calories|
|White Wine (Dry)||175ml Glass||116 Calories|
|White Wine (Medium)||175ml Glass||130 Calories|
|White Wine (Sweet)||175ml Glass||168 Calories|
|Rose Wine||175ml Glass||126 Calories|
|Red Wine||175ml Glass||130 Calories|
|Champagne||120ml Glass||90 Calories|
|Vodka||25ml Serving||55 Calories|
|Gin||25ml Serving||56 Calories|
|Whiskey||25ml Serving||60 Calories|
|Liqueurs||25ml Serving||75 Calories|
|Creamy Liqueurs||25ml Serving||90 Calories|
#5 - Skip Breakfast
Contrary to popular opinion, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day.
Nor is intermittent fasting going to put you at risk of starving or losing all of your muscle.
In fact, skipping breakfast and employing a 16:8 fast (fast for 16 hours and eat only within an 8-hour period) can help you reduce your daily calorie intake and give you more flexibility with your diet.
By not eating breakfast you save on anywhere from 300 – 800 calories that you can then use later in the day, this means you have an extra 300 – 800 calories more than normal before you get into a calorie surplus.
In my opinion, the 16:8 fasting protocol is the perfect set up for this sort of occasion as not only is a 24hr fast much more difficult and restricting for those who aren’t used to fasting but with the 16:8 fast you do a large chunk of your fast overnight whilst you’re sleeping.
Additionally, for those purely using intermittent fasting as a short-term strategy, you do not have to worry about fasting for the full 16 hours, just the act of skipping breakfast and pushing your first to later in the day is going to be beneficial as it frees up those calories you would have otherwise eaten.
If you’re looking for a way to eat a big Christmas dinner whilst reducing the chances of going into a calorie surplus, then try skipping breakfast.
#6 - Relax & Enjoy Yourself
Overall, it’s important to just relax and enjoy yourself.
Christmas and the holidays don’t mean that you give up working out entirely and just stuff your face with food and alcohol, but it also doesn’t mean that you stick super strictly to your routine at the expense of enjoying yourself.
You must find that middle ground and use these strategies to help you get the best of both worlds whilst minimising or completely avoiding that dreaded holiday weight gain.
Besides if we look at the bigger picture we can see that to gain just 1lb of fat you’d need to eat 3,500 extra calories above your maintenance calories. This means even if your maintenance was 2,000 kcals you’d still need to eat over 5,500 calories to gain a 1lb of fat.
Taking into account that 2,000 kcals is quite low and for most people, your maintenance calories will be higher combined with the use of the strategies in this post and you’ll see how it’s possible to keep weight gain at bay.
Not to mention that worst comes to worst and you gain some unwanted weight you can lose twice that amount (2lbs) in one week of eating in a calorie deficit.
Not so scary now is it.
The Christmas period doesn’t have to end with you feeling as plump as the festive robins.
Using the strategies in this post you too can enjoy the holiday season without worrying about unwanted weight gain.
Exercise moderation & portion control
Use cardio strategically
Strength train regularly
Choose your poison wisely
Relax & enjoy yourself